The Cycle of Hell

March 23, 2009


Cycle Of Hell.indd

By Laurie Clarke, Chief Operating Officer, The Tatham Group

Ever wonder why? Why some problems keep coming up over and over again?  Each summer I wonder why my city, Toronto, is taken over by construction workers fixing potholes and repaving roads?  Why are those five pounds (okay ten) shed in the summer regained in the winter? Why are meetings called to discuss the same things?  Why do short-term incentive goals appear the same year after year (or maybe pop up every two to five years)? Why can’t these problems be fixed once and for all?

 Welcome to the cycle of hell. Well, ok, the cycle of hell for some people.  And that is the problem. 

 Goals can be met without actually changing.

A few weeks ago I had an experience that reinforced the importance of goals adding up to something, a new way of operating.  At the request of a management team, we were presenting the success we’ve had with transforming an organization.  We were talking about change.  Changing the way an organization operates, what people do, how they feel, their connection to the customer and success of the organization.  The audience was thinking about how they can reach a goal they have for this year.  What is the fastest, least expensive way I can reach the goal, get confirmation it was met and receive my bonus?  The answer: consultants that can come in and do the work for us, ensure goal achievement through data and report success to senior leadership.

 It became clear that reaching their goal did not require them to change.  Which is good because they don’t want to change.  If people don’t change the way they currently interact and behave, will the problem they are trying to solve get fixed?  If they don’t change their mindset and look from the customer’s perspective, is any solution they come up with going to last?  No.  And that’s not good for the people compensating for the problem or the customers.  However, management will get their bonus this year.  And guess what?  When this goal shows up a few years from now as a problem to be fixed they will likely receive it then.  That’s pretty good incentive to appear as though you are fixing the problem without actually changing anything and consequently keeping the problem broken.

 Some people don’t want to fix the problem. 

Every year the condition of our roads appear to be worse.  As a taxpayer I am a customer of my city.  I’ve never been asked what I would like to see with regards to our roadways.  This made me wonder if any customers are asked?  I conducted a survey of fellow taxpayers and yes there is agreement that everyone wants smooth, pothole free, roadways.  The damage to our vehicles is substantial.  However, would we choose to spend as much money as is spent yearly for the improvements we get?  To spend our beautiful, and far too short, summer navigating around construction in traffic that doesn’t move?  No.  So why not find a different way to solve the pothole problem?  Perhaps use some of that time and money to experiment with or invent a material for our roads that can withstand our volume of traffic and weather changes?  Less money in the long-term, better roads, less noise, traffic and interference of our enjoyment of summer… all sounds good to me.

 Why does the city continue to do what they’ve always done and expect a different outcome?  Or are they expecting a different outcome? Is there incentive to keep this problem broken?  The news stations announce the ‘good’ news – eight hundred million dollars are being invested in fixing the roads over the next five years.  This means more employment and therefore should help our economy.  If past years are any indication, nothing is really going to change.  Roads are only marginally improved.  Is adding extra manpower this year going to solve our pothole problem?   I don’t think so.  And so the cycle continues.

 In order to break the cycle of hell there has to be a strong want to solve the problem.  Which means doing something different than usual.  Which means changing.  Which is uncomfortable, time consuming and more costly in the short-term.  However, I encourage more people to try it.  Start by asking yourself why?  Challenge what, how and why things are being done.  When you do that, the areas you choose to still expend energy will result in innovation and leadership.  It makes life less frustrating and achievements far more rewarding.  Like being able to reach your destination without hitting any bumps in the road.